The occupation of law enforcement can be considered to be among the most demanding careers on earth.
A police officer is tasked with the responsibility of unmasking the most violent forms of crime and busting lethal narcotics in surreal circumstances.
Specifically, an officer is typically exposed to drug overdose owing to their contact with dangerous drugs during operations.
This aspect is evidenced by a recent case by the Griffith police in what can be seen as a classic exemplification of occupational hazards in police work.
In the evening of April 25, Griffith law enforcement agents entered the home of a 35-year-old man that was reportedly overdosed on drugs.
The man was unconscious, and still had a piece of cloth tied to his arm. Medical officers administered naloxone to the man in a bid to revive him and transported the patient to a hospital in Munster.
In the same instance, during site investigations, it was reported that a police officer accidentally came in contact with a white powdery substance. The officer exhibited strange symptoms shortly thereafter.
Reportedly, he experienced nausea, lightheadedness and difficulty in breathing. The police officer was then rushed to a health center for treatment before reporting back to work after recovery.
This occurrence highlights the imminent dangers that law enforcement officers are exposed to during their line of work.
The advancing opioid epidemic has aggravated this issue, with police officers increasingly facing dire risks while enforcing law and order in their communities.
Fentanyl is an exceedingly potent drug that has been implicated in various drug busts across the world.
The synthetic opioid has been found to be a favorite replacement for heroin by junkies owing to its cheaper price and chemical potency.
Unfortunately, the substance endangers the lives of police apart from the users of the drug. It has also been confirmed that fentanyl exerts adverse effects on individuals that come in close contact with its users.
A Host of Occupational Hazards
The drug trade has moved from the streets to the dark web. It has been reported that Dream Market and other darknet sites have been responsible for the aggravation of the fentanyl crisis in the United States.
Still, most law enforcement drug busts occur on the streets despite the origin of seized drugs being the hidden web.
For a long time, law enforcement officers who impound drugs during an arrest would take time to perform simple tests.
First, they would place a sample of the suspect substance in a vial containing liquid. A color change would be used as a litmus test for detecting narcotic substances.
This chemical test has been the standard procedure for many years, with police officers relying on the test to identify cocaine, heroin and other illegal substances.
The results derived from the test would then be used for the prosecution of suspects in courts of law.
While field tests have been instrumental in the arrest and prosecution of drug criminals, they have been found to have critical demerits.
Many established law enforcement entities have ditched the routine field tests owing to reports concerning the endangerment of police officers through exposure to seized drugs.
It is a great concern that law enforcement officers risk the bodily entry of dangerous opioids through inhalation or via skin contact.
Fentanyl, to be specific, is potent enough to cause serious illness or death following a short period of exposure to the substance.
As a precaution, police units are now using specialized crime labs to analyze seized substances.
The downside of this move has been the delay of drug-related criminal cases owing to a backlog experienced in crime labs that are overwhelmed by the volume of samples sent their way.
In Pennsylvania, the fear of inadvertent exposure to fentanyl has compelled police officers to abandon the application of drug field tests entirely.
Police in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania have embraced the use of state police labs that allow the officers to identify suspected drugs.
This is done instead of the regular field tests that were once popular across the country. Counties that combine field tests and crime lab tests do so to ensure the availability of a placeholder that would come in handy during the waiting period assigned to lab results.
Nonetheless, the risks associated with the field tests supersede evidentiary value that would be instrumental in directing prosecution at the courts.
The fear of fentanyl exposure is absolutely valid. The drug has been found to be up to a hundredfold more potent than morphine and has been blamed for 2,395 drug-related deaths in Pennsylvania in 2017 alone.
Statistically, fentanyl overtook heroin as the major cause of deaths caused by drug overdoses in the state.
The fentanyl consumed by drug users is different from that used in hospitals. China has been identified as the main source of fentanyl that is usually mixed with heroin to enhance its potency.
Reports indicate that fentanyl is mainly sourced from the dark web. Buyers often purchase small amounts of the substance from darknet sites and mix the substance with heroin to create the ultimate “power punch.”
Some instances involve the mixing of heroin with fentanyl at the source country before the mix is transported to the U.S. From this point, drug dealers may err in that they would mix the drugs with heroin without knowing that the mixing was already done at the source.
In Indiana, the Griffith Police Department has also joined the growing number of agencies that have prohibited the field testing of drugs. This move aims to protect police officers from accidental exposure to harmful substances.
Law enforcement agencies have used various interventions to protect their officers from occupational hazards attributed to drug field tests.
Police officers in Porter County, Indiana—which is adjacent to Griffith—are using a new device that protects them from direct exposure to lethal drugs.
The Porter County Sheriff’s Department is in the possession of TruNarc, a tool that employs spectrometry and laser technology to identify suspected narcotics that are concealed in packages.
In this sense, law enforcement officers lack the need to make direct contact with suspected drugs that would harm their health.
The Porter County Substance Abuse Council gave a grant for the purchase of the device. This was seen as an integral step in the fight against drugs.
Jamie Erow, a Porter County Sheriff’s Department public information officer, noted that the upsurge in fentanyl-related cases has compelled the department to step up efforts in ensuring the safety of their law enforcement officers.
According to Sgt. Erow’s account, police officers were compelled to physically obtain drug samples from packages and subject it to field tests for the confirmation of narcotics.
In this case, the officers were inhaling and touching harmful substances that were potentially deleterious to their health.
The inception of TruNarc was seen as a fresh breath in the law enforcement sector. The device’s laser system can identify various substances using simple materials.
TruNarc has a digital library that keeps an account of all drugs described by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
This library is regularly updated to ensure the accuracy of accounts and eliminate error during the substance identification process.
The tool works by scanning a sample to correlate it to its match. The scanning process is precise enough to identify precursors that may be coupled with a drug.
The outcomes of the scanning process can be printed out and including the matching substance contained by the DEA database. Such pieces of information may then be used to drive a criminal case in court.
Nevertheless, TruNarc has its limitations.
The fluorescence associated with heroin means that the device can only be able to accurately identify the substance once it has been converted to liquid form.
Erow intimated that the Porter County Sheriff’s Department has already created a secure facility where law enforcement agents can mix heroin with ethanol prior testing.
Another problem is the unit cost of the TruNarc device. The tool is expensive owing to the fact that one has to part with about $25,000 US Dollars to obtain the device. It is for this reason that most police departments, including the Griffith Police Department, are seeking external funding and grants to purchase the device.
Police work has been described severally as a classic example of “dying for the job.”
The specific details of law enforcement are understood by most people who attach it to the potential dangers that officers face.
On a near-daily basis, areas around the U.S. encounter news reports of police deaths that are orchestrated by individual criminals or groups.
It is understood that there are always some people out to harm the protectors of communities.
Interestingly, criminals are not the only threat to the lives of police. The occupational hazards that accompany law enforcement are a major concern to their well-being.
Essentially, the police are usually among the first responders to crime scenes. In the context of drug busts and drug overdose-related cases, the police face deadly risks when responding to these incidents.
To solve this problem, the establishment of sound policies is necessary in ensuring the safety of police officers.